Alan Porter is the Director of Content Intelligence Strategy at [A], a consulting firm that provides content intelligence services. He is a frequent conference speaker, guest writer, and trainer on content marketing, content strategy, customer experience and more. Porter is also the author of “ The Content Pool: Leveraging Your Company's Largest Hidden Asset,” as well as a number of fiction books, comic books, and reference books.
Porter shared insights with us on everything related to content strategy and content marketing; here’s a summary of the conversation. Listen to the full podcast, linked below.
Content and Brand
“Every content touchpoint is a brand experience and needs to be designed as such.”
This is a quote from something Porter said when talking about customer experience. I asked him what role he saw content playing in customer experience.
“Content is part of pretty much every single interaction that you have with a brand.”
Porter pointed out that content is everywhere: it’s your website, mobile app, the signage in your physical store, the packaging on your product, it’s video, it’s social, it’s icons on your printer screen.
“And unfortunately, I think because content is dispersed across the organization, it's not necessarily seen as the driver of the customer experience, because it is sort of fractured across the organization. But you know, I believe that content is the most important thing in driving customer experience. And in today's marketplace, where pretty much everything is a commodity, customer experience, and brand loyalty is really the only differentiator left.”
Porter said it’s up to those in the content industry and content professionals to promote the fact that content is at the heart of every customer experience.
“Every time that you interact with content produced by a company, it is a reflection of that brand. And it should be a consistent message and a consistent experience.”
Overcoming the Content Silo Challenge
I asked Porter what things an organization can do to overcome the challenge of dealing with content spread across the organization and the lack of a centralized view of the importance of content.
He said that one of the reasons it’s such a challenge for organizations is because of the way they measure performance, and what the key performance indicators are.
“I think a lot of it comes down to the management of KPIs, and the way people are incented, the way they're measured. And also, you know, we all do it, we get heads down into what have I got to do today to do my job? I have to do this thing and deliver it and pass it to the next person in the line or push it on to the next system or whatever. And we all sort of, we all become, and it's human nature, we all become myopic about what we have to do, and need somebody to be able to take that step back, who has the view, maybe across the organization, to start looking at things from a customer perspective, and bringing those people together.”
He said when he asks people what great customer experience is for them is, they use names like Netflix and Disney. But they don’t think about creating that kind of experience within their own company.
“Do you deliver that sort of experience to your customers? And they're like, Well, no, and I'm like, Well, you don't stop being a customer when you go to work. You're still somebody else's customer. Why aren't you bringing in that mindset to the way that you deliver your experience to your customers? You know, don't expect your customers to have a lesser experience than you'd accept as a consumer yourself.”
Porter said the hardest part is the change management – taking the way you expect things as a consumer and applying it to your own business.
The Overlap Between Product and Content Marketing
Porter has worked in both product and content marketing. In many organizations, they are treated as separate disciplines, but in truth, they overlap significantly. How should organizations manage the relationship between the two?
He said the relationship should be synergistic, even if they are functionally separate. He’s seen organizations where product marketing reports to content marketing and vice versa. The best situation, he said, is where both report to a Chief Marketing Officer or a Chief Marketing and Product Officer.
What’s important is that there is a strong relationship between the two because both offer critical content to the customer. Porter said that technical content is some of the most important content to provide a customer.
I also asked Porter about creating personas and customer journey maps. It seems like this is the job of both the content and product marketer, so how does a company bridge the gap between these two sets?
“One of the questions they're asking is what's the transaction they're trying to do? How do they do it? What outcomes does your customer want to make his job easier? Then figure out where you fit within that overall story framework. So, for me, that's what a customer journey means. And that really needs to come from a higher level. Unfortunately, things happen functionally. Content marketing is like, let's do a customer journey around the website, and product marketing can be like let's do a content journey around how somebody actually uses the product, and the two don't necessarily talk to each other. So, it really needs to take that broader, sort of more holistic point of view.”
The Important Role of the Technical Communicator
Porter has said that technical communicators are in the best position to drive the relationships that will help share that content.
“I've always been very straight about the fact that technical communications or technical documentation, information architecture, information design, whatever you want to call it, you know, that point where you're building the content to help the customer use the product, that's where all the intellectual property of the company comes together.”
“A good technical communicator should be the customer advocate; they're the ones who should be thinking about how to communicate something to a customer effectively. You have to think like the customer, so they should already have that outside-in view of what it is like to work with our product, and what do I need to explain.”
Technical communicators are the bridge between engineering and product, Porter said. They should be working with product, with support, with training, and with marketing to ensure they are all telling the same message.
The Content Pool & Other Writing
Porter's book, The Content Pool, makes a case for placing content creation, management, and distribution on par with other core strategic business activities. This is similar thinking to Doug Laney’s idea of Infonomics. Porter wrote his book in 2012, and I was wondering how far along he thought organizations are?
Every company, regardless of size, sees a need for a product and creates it, Porter said. He said, every company has product, sales, marketing, finance, and it has support. The one common thing across all those departments is content.
“Content is the one thing that binds a company together. It’s where a company's knowledge and worth is. Those five things all tend to have very senior executives in charge of them. Content does not. I believe content is the largest unused asset in most businesses. And the book actually ends with the idea that every company should have a Chief Content Officer who understands content holistically across the organization and how it flows...”
He has seen some organizations take on a Chief Content Officer in the years since he wrote the book. In other organizations, he’s seen that content is considered a strategic asset, and roles are appearing to support that at the vice president or director level. We still have a long way to go, he said, but he’s hopeful that in the next five to fifteen years, we will see content as an asset on the balance sheet.
Porter is also a writer of high adventure fiction, pop culture reference books, and comics. He said he didn’t get started writing until he was in his thirties.
“I just always liked to tell stories and wanted to tell stories. I really started more on nonfiction and pop culture reference books. You know, I'm a self-declared geek. There are a lot of things I love, Star Trek, James Bond, Batman, Sherlock Holmes, just looking around my office full of geeky stuff. They say often your first book becomes when you're looking for a particular book on the market that doesn't exist. So you write it yourself. And that's sort of how I got into it."
Right now, Porter is writing a non-fiction book called “Ditch the List.” He said he hated writing lists and found he became more productive when he stopped using them.
Does the work he performs in content strategy/intelligence affect how he writes fiction and vice versa?
“I'm one of those who very much plots out my fiction, a bit like putting together the sections for a technical manual where you sort of figure out the structure, and then you go back in and fill in the details. That's the way I approach my fiction very much so. Upfront, I know what the theme of the story is going to be, and then I'll sort of plan it out, what the main story beats are and then go back in and just gradually fill it out, and then go back and make sure it follows.”
“I do like to communicate through stories and the content, in talking to content intelligence, the best way often to get people to understand what's happening is to tell stories. People remember stories more than they remember facts.”
The Future of the CMS Industry
Where do you see the CMS industry in 5-10 years?
I asked Porter if, in the coming years, we will have resolved our issues with creating useful, reusable content. Will the technology be there to help us do that better?
“I think the underlying technology and the fundamental theory is there. I think it's great. I think that the hardest part and the biggest challenge we face comes down to that storytelling; it is selling the benefit of it.”
“I think to an extent, and I'm completely guilty of it, we get so carried away in the CMS environment, what we can do and the way we do it. We talk about features and functions and XML and reuse and data and content models and stuff like that. And people's eyes glaze over. It's like we could never do that. You know, we're not sophisticated is one phrase I hear a lot: we're not sophisticated enough to do intelligent content.
“That's not right. You don't necessarily have to be sophisticated; you just have to think about a different way of doing it. Understand the benefits to yourself and your customers, not from a features and functions point of view. But what does it mean to you as a business? What does it mean to you as a customer? How can you deliver a better customer experience? Take another look at your content and the way that you're producing it from a different mindset, that's intelligent content. That's not technology.
“I think this year, we have the underlying technology; I think what we have to get a lot better at telling our story. And figuring out how we can actually make that relatable to the people who are creating the content, managing it, and delivering it.”